Science Debate 2008

We need a president who moves science back into the White House. Today we do not have a presidential science adviser and there is no office of science in the White House (link).

Yesterday should have been the day of Science debate 2008 if only the candidates had agreed to participate. I am disappointed that they did not but also not surprised. Before becoming politicians Hilary and Barack were lawyers, and John was professional military. What do they know about science and technology? Nothing. Unfortunately by turning down the chance to debate and discuss science suggests that they do not have science advisors on their campaign staff either. So is this why they don’t want to debate the future of science in the USA?

The editorial quoted at the top of this post is very informative – kind of not surprising why so many scientists fail at their first academic position [takes a bow] if the average age of getting a grant is 42 years. So one or two brilliant people get them earlier and the rest of us…I always was a late developer.

Where are our future scientists and engineers coming from?  Can we get them from the US or do we need to import them? From what I’ve seen from some of the science labs in local high schools, it is not surprising that not many graduating high school seniors want to take up science.

It is a shame that the candidates did not debate science and they still need to prove their scientific credentials.

Now there is a second invitation to the candidates to debate science in Oregon on May 2, 9 or 16. Let us hope they attend.

science debate 2008 logo


Arthur C Clarke Dead at 90

We interrupt the Food Fest for an important announcement:

One of the first science fiction writers I read has died. An era has ended. Arthur C Clarke wrote some of the leading science fiction books including Space Odyssey:2001, A Fall of Moondust, and The Fountains of Paradise. The last of which explored the idea of a space elevator, which I still find fascinating.

Labor Day News

Despite the fact that the United States celebrates Labor Day at the wrong time of year, at least yesterday was celebrating labor. On the same day, the UN’s International Labour Organization released a report that says US workers are the most productive workers in the world (Key Indicators of Labour Market).

So we workers in the US should stop and pat ourselves on the back and enjoy the holiday. Umm, not according to Steven Beard of NPR’s Marketplace:


Doug Krizner: On this Labor Day, news the American worker is the most productive in the world. That’s according to a new report from the International Labor Organization in Geneva. Let’s bring in our European correspondent Stephen Beard. Stephen, what do these figures show?

Stephen Beard: Well they show that Americans work longer hours than the citizens of most other developed countries and are by a long shot the most productive. These figures are actually quite startling. The UN’s arrived at them by taking total GDP and dividing it by the number of people employed and these show that the average U.S. worker produces $63,885 worth of output a year and that compares with small countries like Ireland, Luxembourg and Belgium, which come next in the rankings, which produce only around $55,000.

Krizner: I would imagine that a lot of this has to do with the extent to which, particularly in the States, we have this huge availability of information technology.

Beard: That’s what the UN says. It’s clearly that the whole computer and telecom revolution has gone faster and further in the U.S. than perhaps anywhere else. Also they point to the way American companies organize themselves and the generally high level of competition in the country as a whole.

Krizner: Stephen Beard in London, thanks for the encouraging words on our Labor Day.

Beard: Keep working.

Food News

Here are some food news items I saw and haven't had time to read or comment on:

The Beeb repports that aspartame has been shown NOT to be linked to cancer by the European Food Safety Authority.

Is obesity a sign of depression? asks Hedwig, aka Grrlscientist.

If you want to lose weight you could try looking at Random Squares to stop you thinking about food suggests Dave Munger at Cognitive Daily.

What does the Organic label really mean? asks Melinda Wenner at Stochastic after reading the New Yorker article by Steven Shapin and Michael Pollan's article in Mother Jones.

Tara at Aetiology reminds us that tomorrow (Sat May 13) is STAMP OUT HUNGER Day.

Evologen reports on a New York Times article where bartenders are using molecular mixology to make cool and interesting drinks.

Also the 9th teaching carnival is posted by Dr Freeride. Lots of interesting articles from the tertiary education perspective.

That's all I saw, post in the comments if you saw anything else food related.

Food in the News

Maple Syrup Science

The University of Vermont is applying science to Maple Syrup. They have just opened a state of the art center the Proctor Maple Research Center to see if the new technologies produce a product as good as the old technologies. Here they will be applying flavor and sensory chemistry to determine what makes a good maple syrup. Follow this link for more information about Maple Syrup science and news about the new center at UV.

Nanotech Database

Every wondered if you were already eating nanotech products? This database should help you find out. I was interested to find out what food products already contain nanotechnology, as I am intrigued as to what value could this add to a food product.

There is a canola oil containing micelles that are used as a carrier for phytosterols, which reduced cholesterol levels. Phytosterols are in Benecol as stanol esters, but not as nanotech micelles. The apparent advantage of Canola Alive is that the micelles will allow the product to reach the absorption site without being destroyed, either during cooking or digestion.

There are several nanotech dietary supplements or Nanoceuticals™ as the company calls them. Looking at the individual products, e.g. the chocolate shake, the main selling point is the usual dietary supplement blurb, ending with the FDA has not approved these statements or tested our products. The nanotech adds flavor. Chocolate is used to disguise bad flavors. You can do this at home. Make something tasting awful, add chocolate and the flavor is hidden. As they don’t have any other flavors, it makes me wonder – if I paid $36 for this product, I would convince myself it tasted good and I was losing weight.

Folic Acid Fortification

Adding folic acid to enriched flour has improved the health of Americans and Canadians. A recent article published in Circulation shows that there has been a population wide fall in homocysteine in response to the higher intake of folate. Low homocysteine levels is risk factor towards stroke. By increasing the homocysteine levels, stroke morbidity should decrease.

Over the last ten years, stroke mortality in America and Canada has fallen, particularly since 1998 when folate enrichment was mandate by the Federal government. In England and Wales, where it enrichment hasn’t occurred there was no change in stroke mortality. Does this make me pleased to have moved to the US or what? To my family in England, start taking those folate supplements NOW.

BTW the graphs presented in this article (here, not sure if need subscription) and below are not well drawn. Or perhaps it is a physical chemistry perspective vs. epidemiology. The y-axis could at least have the same scale for each population group. I might just have to use these for an exercise in class sometime.

Fig from circulation
Yang, Q. et al. Circulation 2006;113:1335-1343

Finally, I am off to the ACS meeting in Atlanta GA. I will be mostly at the “Color Quality of Fresh and Processed Foods? symposium. I don’t know if I will have time/internet access.

Back next week.

Food & Science in the News

In Britain a drug trial went wrong when the six testers ended up being hospitalized (here). [New Scientist also has a report but subscription might be needed.] TGN1412 is a humanized monoclonal antibody, a genetically engineered protein that is part mouse but mostly human. It was designed to treat leukemia and autoimmune diseases such a multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, the drug caused massive inflammation of tissue and internal organs. It also caused massive organ failure. Oops. I hope the testers recover soon, umm, when the doctors work out how to treat them. Scary.

Meanwhile in the US, the House of Representatives passed a bill that removes the responsibility of individual states to set their own food safety laws. Umm, that was the least political way I can think of putting it. Some very good links are here, here, here, and here. The Center of Science in the Public Interest and the Natural Resources Defense Council has put together a very good report (here) that shows how this bill would effect your state. Obviously, I checked Delaware and there are four laws that would be over-ridden by the new law: Milk safety, regulations for restaurants, shellfish safety and rules on the use of artificial sweeteners.

lava fudgeEver wondered when you make fudge, why it has gone wrong. Well, perhaps food chemists can learn from geologists. Fudge was used by a geologist to create a model of lava flow.

Chili pepperCapsaicin kills cancer cells (also New Scientist) and from Google News: here, and here. It seems that capsaicin, the compound that causes chilies to be “hot? may also reduce prostrate cancer:

“In conducting their test, researchers fed capsaicin orally to mice. Thank goodness they ate the stuff. One of the researchers reported that the feeding was equivalent to a 200 pound man eating from three to eight of the ultra-hot habanero peppers three times a week?

Perhaps the British male machismo of eating hot spicy curries is actually an evolutionary step. On second thoughts, remembering times with some such men, may be not.

FDA posts updated guidelines for assessing the safety of food additives.

Nutritional content of fruit and vegetables has fallen over the last 50 years, reports Donald Davis, a biochemist at the University of Texas. While the article here, suggests that organic produce might be better, the report does not say if there is a difference in nutritional value between conventionally grown and organic produce. Previous studies have typically shown no significant difference between them.

Finally, don’t forget to raise a glass of green beer for St Patrick’s Day
Green Beer